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ABSTRACT:     Article about the Skybolt built and flown by Henry Pierce of Peconic, NY.
Skybolt Savvy
The third time is also a charm for Henry Pierce.
(From Kitplanes, 01/1998, Page 10)
By Howard Levy
Photography by Howard Levy and Dick Block

In our May 1993 issue of KITPLANES, we ran a story on Henry Pierce and his award-winning, 200-hp Ford-powered Spezio Tuholer. Now this 75-year-old, 950-hour private pilot has done it again, this time with a Skybolt.

Henry Pierce has won 31 awards for his homebuilding skill and tenacity.
Henry Pierce has won 31 awards for his homebuilding skill and tenacity.

Since an October 1, 1994, first flight, the airplane has garnered Grand Champion awards at New York and Delaware fly-ins, and Best Homebuilt awards twice on Long Island, as an EAA New York fly-in, and at New Jersey and Massachusetts gatherings.

In fact, Pierce has received a total of 31 awards for three different homebuilts that he has produced. The first aircraft was a 160-hp, Lycoming-powered Mustang II completed in 1988. It now has 240 flight hours. And the Tuholer has logged 78 hours since first liftoff in May, 1991.

In our earlier Tuholer story, we had also mentioned that Pierce always received joshing from his antique aircraft owner friends who have a Hatz and Fleet of the 1930s, and a Belgian designed Stampe of pre- and post-WW-II... all bipes. These friends said, You don't have an airplane unless it has two wings and a round engine.

The Skybolt is flown solo from the rear cockpit.
The Skybolt is flown solo from the rear cockpit.

Maybe to appease these buddies, and after thumbing through copies of Trade-A-Plane and reading articles, he decided on a Steen Skybolt. All the Skybolt builders I read about or talked to seemed to be very pleased with the airplanes, Pierce commented, so when a project became available, I purchased it. He had a partially tack-welded fuselage, a fuel tank, and a landing gear, but he wound up using only the fuselage after completing the welding. He discarded the standard Skybolt landing gear in favor of a McKenzie oleo type developed for the Starfire revision of the Skybolt. Instead of 4130 tubular V legs and bungee cord shocks, it employs a chromoly box beam structure with 3.5-inch diameter compression donuts.

Getting to Work

Pierce built his Skybolt, like his previous homebuilts, in a 30x36-foot workshop 160 feet behind his Peconic home on the north fork of eastern Long Island, New York. Since he retired, he put an average of 9 hours every day into building the airplane. But he adds, As I got closer to completion, I became more enthusiastic and worked even longer hours.

Construction was started in March, 1992, and the airplane was completed in late September, 1994.

Pierce's current homebuilt air force includes the Skybolt (right), a Mustang II (his first project, left) and a Spezio Tuholer.
Pierce's current homebuilt air force includes the Skybolt (right), a Mustang II (his first project, left) and a Spezio Tuholer.

Test Time

His first flight lasted 30 minutes, but during the takeoff run, Pierce found the airplane moving to the right. A quick adjustment of the rudder trim tab had the airplane rolling dead center down the runway. Once airborne, the Skybolt responded to all of the checkout maneuvers without hesitation or deviation. Pierce reports, After the trim tab correction, no other adjustment was necessary, and nothing even had to be tightened. And the Skybolt is a real good flying airplane. Those other builders weren't wrong.

This Starfire sliding canopy covers both cockpits. Pierce spent three weeks completing it.
This Starfire sliding canopy covers both cockpits. Pierce spent three weeks completing it.


The fuselage is a conventional welded 4130 chromoly truss structure, primarily of 0.8750-inch diameter, 0.035-inch wall tubes and spruce stringers. Tandem cockpits are both 20.25 inches wide, and Pierce purchased a Starfire double-cockpit sliding bubble canopy kit from H.G. McKenzie's Starfire Aviation. The canopy proved to be a three-week assembly job. As the aircraft cannot be flown with the canopy open, Pierce is often questioned about heat during the summer. His response: The NASA scoop provides all the cooling air that is necessary.

The cockpits have dual controls but no brakes up front. Instrument panels were fabricated with an aluminum base, covered with Formica, then finished with four coats of clear Imron. The rear pilot's cockpit panel includes a King KX 125 navcom and KT 76 transponder with encoder, plus a Sigtronics intercom, and a Garmin GPS-95 to his right.

Pierce usually flies alone, and since the main 29-gallon fuel tank is in the forward part of the front cockpit (another 8-gallon tank is in the upper wing center section) with the sight gauge in view, Pierce built a small handheld periscope to check his fuel supply while in flight.

After flying on a rainy day, Pierce's wheel dollies help cram his three-plane collection into his hangar. The Skybolt is Pierce's latest -- and therefore current favorite -- project.
After flying on a rainy day, Pierce's wheel dollies help cram his three-plane collection into his hangar. The Skybolt is Pierce's latest -- and therefore current favorite -- project.

A 3-square-foot baggage area is located behind the rear seat, and the entire all-aluminum turtledeck is removable to provide access to the rear fuselage for inspection and any necessary maintenance.


Up front there is a 200-hp Lycoming IO-360-A1B enclosed in a reworked-to-fit Piper Comanche aluminum cowling. The engine came off a Lake Amphibian that had all but been destroyed by the Philippines volcano eruption. However, the engine, with only 207 hours, was salvageable and Philippines Airlines had it overhauled and zero-timed before Pierce's acquisition.

The propeller is a 76x58-inch Sensenich. The exhaust stack, exhaust pan and firewall are all stainless steel. I do only mild aerobaticsrolls and spins. Pierce says. so I haven't fitted an inverted system.


The top wing has a NACA 632A1OB airfoil, and the bottom wing uses a NACA 0012. Wings are wood structures with an aluminum leading edge and employing a 1-inch-thick by 4-inch-high solid Sitka spruce spar 6.5 inches from the leading edge, and a 1x3-inch spar 27 inches farther aft in the top wing.

The bottom wing forward spar is at 7 inches, and aft spar 26 inches to the rear. Ribs are routed quarter-inch birch plywood. The top wing contains 24 ribs and the bottom 22 ribs. The top wing is swept back 6.5 degrees; the bottom wing has no sweep. There is a 15.75-inch stagger. Wing gap is 37.5 inches.

The I-struts are made of 4130 tubing with spruce fillets and Ceconite covering. Upper and lower wings are fitted with ailerons, their structure duplicating the wing, but with leading-edge internal lead ingots for counterbalance. The trailing edge is aluminum.

The Tail

Tail feathers have no airfoil and are welded 4130 frames, employing 0.6250/0.035 tubing. The stabilizer has six rib tubes; the elevator had eight tubes and counterbalanced tips, plus a piano hinged control tab in each half, activated by a worm screw seat adjuster from a Cessna 150.

The rudder has four ribs and its trailing edge uses 0.3750/0.035 tubing.


The entire airplane is covered with Ceconite. The white paint is Randolph's Ranthane (urethane), and the charcoal gray is Imron.


The main landing gear has Cleveland wheels and hydraulic disc brakes with 6.00x6 McCreary tires and a 6-foot tread. The steerable tailwheel is a Scott 3200 with an 8-inch pneumatic tire. Wheel pants are much-modified Piper Cherokee units that Pierce widened and lengthened. He also added an internal fiberglass cover for the brakes. Lower wing fairings are also fiberglass.

Pierce's Skybolt has a 1255-pound empty weight and a gross of 1900 pounds.

Flying by the Numbers

The following numbers are based on solo flight because that is the way Pierce usually goes. Takeoff run is 500 feet with liftoff at 80 mph. The Skybolt climbs 1500 fpm at 100 mph. Cruise is near 133 mph at 2450 rpm with a 9.5-10 gph fuel consumption. Endurance is 3 hours.

Approach is made at 80 mph, and Pierce normally lands at 65 mph, which is approximately 10 mph above stall speed. Rollout is 800 feet, he says.

A suggestion for a possible flight formation of his three homebuilts didn't work out as Pierce is the only one who flies his airplanes. Asked which airplane he prefers to fly, he said, The new toy, of course. Doesn't everyone go that route? His next project? I would never consider building something that I have done before, he said, as I feel it would be a drag. Now, I am sort of leaning toward restoring an antique, but I have nothing in mind or available at this point.

Bringing It Home

Pierce now hangars his airplanes at Mattituck Airport, which is also the home base of the nationally known engine maintenance facility of the same name. Being located at Mattituck has been pure joy for me, Pierce said. "The people have made it a pleasure to be based here."

Credit for the air-to-air photos goes to Dick Block, Pierce's hangar neighbor, who once again made himself and his Cessna 172P available as pilot and camera platform.

FOR MORE INFORMATION on Skybolt plans, contact Steen Aero Lab at 1451 Clearmont St. NE, Palm Bay, FL 32905; call 321/725-4160. Plans are $165 and an info pack is $10. [new address inserted - ed]

If you have any additions or corrections to this item, please let us know.

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